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This article originally appears on MadameNoire.com

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, so it seemed fitting that we discuss the importance of breastfeeding. In recent years more black women have been breastfeeding their babies. In 2008, the percentage of infants who ever breastfed had increased among blacks to 58.9% from 47.4% in 2000. In the past, Madame Noire discussed why black women don’t breastfeed. I would like to talk about the benefits that you may or may not know about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding allows mom to make the food that is perfect for her baby. Mom’s breast milk gives the baby the healthy start that lasts a lifetime.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the thick, first milk that you make during pregnancy and just after birth. Sometimes it’s called liquid gold for its deep yellow color. This milk is very rich in nutrients and includes antibodies to protect the baby from infections. Colostrum also helps your newborn infant’s digestive system to grow and function. The baby gets only a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, because the stomach of a newborn infant is tiny and can hold only a small amount. This is why it is so important to begin breastfeeding right after delivery. By the third to fifth day after birth colostrum changes into mature milk. This mature milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein to help the baby continue to grow. It looks thinner than colostrum, but it has the nutrients and antibodies the baby needs for healthy growth.

What are the health benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby?

The cells, hormones and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. Research suggests that breastfed babies have lower risks of:

  • Asthma
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Childhood obesity
  • Ear infections
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in pre-term infants
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Type 2 diabetes

Mothers that breastfeed have been found to have a lower risk of these health problems:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain types of breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

How does breastfeeding compare to formula feeding?

·  Formula can be harder for the baby to digest. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk substitutes like formula are harder to digest than breast milk. Formula is made from cow’s milk and it often takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting it.

·  Life can be easier for mom when she breastfeeds. Breastfeeding may seem like it takes a little more effort than formula feeding at first. But breastfeeding can make life easier once mom and baby settle into a good routine. When you breastfeed, there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize. You do not have to buy, measure and mix formula. And there are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night! When you breastfeed, you can satisfy your baby’s hunger right away.

·  Not breastfeeding costs money. Formula and feeding supplies can cost well over $1,500 each year. Breastfed babies may also be sick less often, which can help keep your baby’s health costs lower.

·  Breastfeeding keeps mother and baby close. Physical contact is important to newborns. It helps them feel more secure, warm, and comforted. Mothers also benefit from this closeness. The skin-to-skin contact boosts your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps breast milk flow and can calm the mother.

If you decide to breastfeed for three months or a year it will definitely benefit you and your baby. There is no scientific evidence to state that breastfeeding helps in getting mom back to pre-pregnancy weight, but a lot of woman claim this to be true. So if you needed another reason as to why you should breastfeed, this might be a good one. At the end of the day you have to do what is right for you and your family. Some moms are able to breastfeed and some are not. For the women that decide not to or are unable to breastfeed you are still great moms.

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